Guinea: How Doumbouya reopened the door to China in Simandou

By Diawo Barry

Posted on Tuesday, 7 February 2023 09:52
A reverse circulation drilling team from SBD Guinea at an iron ore rich site near Ouelaba © RIO TINTO

Upon the return of the delegation it sent to Beijing, the Guinean presidency announced on 30 January that the construction work in Simandou might resume in March.

Guinea and its partners want to resume construction of the 670km railway linking the Simandou iron mine to the deep-water Moribayah port (Forécariah prefecture), according to a press release that the presidency issued upon the Guinean delegation’s return from China.

Deadline 28 February

Mamadi Doumbouya sent a large delegation led by Djiba Diakité, his minister-director of the cabinet at the presidency, to Beijing from 11 to 22 January. The latter was accompanied by the economy and finance minister, Moussa Cissé, the presidency’s senior advisor, Bocar Baila Ly, and the chairmen of the boards of directors of the Agence Nationale d’Aménagement des Infrastructures Minières (Anaim) and the Compagnie du Transguinéen (CTG).

According to the Guinean presidency’s press release, the envoys were received during their stay by the Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs. They also met with the parties involved in realising Simandou, including the financial partners and the mining companies concerned by the Sino-Guinean Framework Agreement.

The negotiations seem to have been conclusive since they established that “as soon as possible, the effective start of the gigantic Simandou project in March 2023”, the press release states, adding: “Subject to the finalisation of the negotiations of the project documents by 28 February 2023 at the latest”.

China strengthens its position

In addition to getting the Simandou project back on track, implementing phase 2 of the Sino-Guinean framework agreement on infrastructure construction was discussed during the meeting. 

The two parties agreed on the composition of a technical monitoring team to accelerate the financing of the projects concerned, some of which Guinea described as priorities in 2022, states the same document.

These include the construction of four universities, the Fomi multi-purpose dam (near Kankan, in the east) which should make it possible to electrify the Upper Guinea region in particular, the construction of a bypass on the northern Hamdallaye-Sonfonia road (a suburb of Conakry) and the Greater Conakry water supply project which includes, in addition to the capital, the towns of Dubréka and Coyah.

Doumbouya’s emissaries finally expressed to their hosts the latter’s desire to “pursue, consolidate and expand friendly relations” between Guinea and China. This has already materialised, as a new Chinese partner in the form of Baowu Steel, the Chinese steel giant, was integrated into the project. The news was made public when the Simandou commercial agreement was signed on 22 December.

End of the arm wrestling match?

In the end, the partners in the Simandou project, Baowu, Winning Consortium Simandou (WCS) and Rio Tinto, have committed to restarting construction of the rail and port infrastructure in March. The work is expected to be completed by 31 December 2024 at the latest, so that production can start no later than 13 March 2025, according to the official timetable.

This agreement could bring an end to a long episode that began in March 2022. On that date, in the middle of the Council of Ministers, Colonel Doumbouya ordered a freeze on all activities at the world-class iron ore mine in southern Guinea. He planned to demand that Rio Tinto and WCS safeguard his country’s interests.

Two weeks later, Guinea had received a concession of 15% free shares regarding the operation of the future railway and port infrastructure that WCS was building. This infrastructure is meant to be shared and eventually returned to the state. 

But on 4 July, Doumbouya again ordered that all activities immediately cease, reproaching his partners for refusing to sign the articles of association so that the joint venture could be created to develop the Simandou project.

On 27 July, the authorities finally announced the creation of the Compagnie du Transguinéen (CTG), with a view to co-developing the project. However, this progress did not allow work to resume on the ground. Since then, several thousand workers have been out of work.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options